Sometimes, our ancestors were not the most creative people. This is particularly true when it came to naming new settlements. Throughout the history of the United States, many towns have been named after one of the following: a founder or influential early settler, a figure from American history (i.e., Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, etc.), or a famous foreign leader (Guilford, Vermont, and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire). There are other methods for community-naming, including one which can be extremely helpful to genealogical researchers: reusing the name of a town in another state where many early settlers originated. Continue reading Naming patterns
A popular image exists of Native Peoples meeting the passengers of the Mayflower as a first contact scenario where the indigenous populations in what would become New England saw Europeans for the first time. This is a romantic myth designed to create warm feelings of a cooperative relationship leading to the first Thanksgiving. In fact, the Native populations in New England had already met European fishermen and traders nearly a century before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth and their interactions with Europeans made them wary of the newcomers. Continue reading Before the Mayflower
As one of the few remaining staff members from NEHGS Sesquicentennial in 1995, I thought I would share my memories as we celebrate the next quarter century. My journey at NEHGS began in 1986, as a high school student. I would make frequent visits to research my New England and Atlantic Canadian ancestry at 101 Newbury Street. An article about my research as a “Student Member” appeared in the NEHGS news magazine NEXUS (the acronym for New England Across the U.S.) in 1987. Later that year I would meet my future bride Anne-Marie and we both traveled into Boston to research together. Continue reading From the age of dial-up
A few years ago, I stumbled on an amazing resource: the Zamrsk Regional Archive in the Czech Republic. This archive, which manages records from the region of Eastern Bohemia, has been working on digitizing all of the church register books in its collection and making them available for free through their website. All you need to use them is a little patience and a lot of free storage space on your computer. Continue reading Bohemian church registers online
My maternal grandmother Sylvia was the youngest of seven children born to Rufus Herman Bailey of Windham, Rockingham County, New Hampshire and his wife Mina P. Watson of Boston, Massachusetts. Her Bailey lineage traces back to immigrant Richard Bailey, who died in Rowley, Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1647. My grandmother was a definite survivor. She lost her twin sister at eight months. She was hit by a car in 1920 at the age of 18. She lost her first daughter to scarlet fever when Shirley was just shy of her fourth birthday. Sylvia epitomized New England stoicism. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution so that she could volunteer at the General John Stark house, which was just a block from her home in Manchester, New Hampshire. Continue reading Three hundred years of Massachusetts ancestry
We are not far removed from a time when parents, as a matter of course, endured the loss of one or more of their children. In fact, each of my grandparents had a sibling who died in infancy or early childhood. Some years ago, as part of a field study in a local cemetery, one of my students, obviously struck by the number of children’s graves, asked me: “Do you think parents back then just didn’t get attached to their children because they knew some of them would die?” My answer to this question has deepened over the years as I have listened to family stories and discerned poignant signs of remembrance. Continue reading Childhood mortality
While William Bradford himself never delved into the life of my ancestor (and Mayflower passenger) Francis Billington, the same is not true for Francis’s father John Billington. He appears in several items in his ten years in Plymouth, nearly all in a negative light. He was brought before the Plymouth Company in March 1621 and charged with “contempt of the Captain [Myles Standish]’s lawful command with opprobrious speeches: for which he was adjudged to have his Neck and Heels tied together: but upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first Offence, He is forgiven.” In 1624, he was an outspoken supporter for Rev. John Lyford and John Oldham in their revolt against William Bradford and the rest of the Leiden contingent and the authority of the Plymouth church, but denied any involvement when brought up on examination. Continue reading The first execution
Women’s history throughout American history has been an area of great interest to me. Women were not always permitted to be in the same areas as men, including universities, working as doctors and lawyers, and membership in organizations (including genealogical societies). Prior to 1898, women were not admitted as members of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This changed in January 1897 when members voted by a special ballot, and the motion to admit women was approved by the majority of voters. Once the ballot was over, the charter had to be changed, which required a petition to the Massachusetts legislature and approval by the governor. The petition was approved on 10 April 1897. Continue reading The first women members
With all the excitement about the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower sailing, I’ve been looking for my own Pilgrim ancestors. While my maternal side is mostly nineteenth-century German and English immigrants, my paternal side does have deep New England roots. So far, I haven’t found anyone who came over on the Mayflower in my family tree. Yet, I still feel a connection to those feisty Pilgrims. Their religious beliefs have rippled down through the centuries, with a few embellishments and changes, but are still flowing strongly in me and my family today.
The Pilgrims were a radical group of Puritans labeled as Separatists. While the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England, the Pilgrims wanted to take it a step further and separate themselves into their own congregations. They wanted no church hierarchy and no one telling them what their congregation could or could not do. Plymouth Colony was founded on these principles in 1620. Continue reading Mayflower family traditions
On 3 February 2020, the Committee on Heraldry at the New England Historic Genealogical Society will celebrate its 156th birthday. Known as the oldest non-governmental heraldic body in the Western world, the Committee on Heraldry task themselves with maintaining and adding to a unique collection of coats of arms associated with American families, as well as organizing educational programming to introduce more people to this artistic side of family history.
The Committee is chaired by Ryan Woods, Executive Vice President and COO at NEHGS. Woods follows in the footsteps of his kinsman, Henry Ernest Woods, who was chairman of the Committee on Heraldry from 1890 to 1911. Today, the committee of twelve meets three to four times yearly, and is charged with reviewing applications and registrations of coats of arms for Americans. These include both historical and modern coats of arms. Continue reading Heraldry in the news